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Northampton writer wins MacArthur Fellowship

  • —Sharona Jacobs Photography.

  • —Sharona Jacobs Photography.

  • KELLY LINK SHARONA JACOBS PHOTOGRAPHY



Staff Writer
Thursday, October 04, 2018

NORTHAMPTON — “This is a thing that has happened,” Northampton fiction writer and Small Beer Press co-owner Kelly Link tweeted Thursday afternoon, sounding pretty casual.

What happened was that she won a “genius grant,” the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship that’s given annually to those with “exceptional creativity” and that comes with a $625,000 stipend spread over a period of five years.

Link is one of 25 fellows, including mathematicians, poets, playwrights and painters. Past winners include writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, cartoonist Alison Bechdel and playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda.

“I’m enormously honored,” she said. “In terms of impact, I’m going to worry slightly less about how to pay bills, and think a lot more about how to promote the writers that we publish,” she added.

Zombies, vampires and other strange beings fill Link’s stories, which draw from science fiction, fantasy, horror, and as Link puts it, “The Weird.” Her book “Get in Trouble,” a 2016 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, features stories such as “The Summer People,” a tale that considers class issues in a world with fairy-like creatures. Other collections include “Stranger Things Happen,” “Magic for Beginners” and “Pretty Monsters.” Her work has been featured in “The Best American Short Stories,” among other places.

“She’s really a master at creating contemporary legends full of delight and terror and slyness and a disjointed reality,” said Brian Baldi, a writer and educator who lives in Florence and knows Link. “Often her stories are full of love and trances and devastation and oddity.”

Hearing of her win, he added, “I was so pleased. She’s an incredibly creative and productive writer.”

Link is the second MacArthur “genius” with ties to the Valley to win the grant in two years. Last year, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and Amherst native Annie Baker won the award.

Originally from Miami, Link now lives with her husband, Gavin Grant, and their daughter in Northampton.

In 2000, Link and Grant started Small Beer Press, which they ran out of their kitchen in Brooklyn. They had already been publishing a zine — a self-published magazine, typically with a DIY feel— and with advice from many of their friends in publishing, they started the indie press. “We knew we wanted to publish work which fell somewhere between literary work and genres like fantasy and science fiction,” Link said.

Over the years, they’ve published six to 10 titles a year, including short stories and speculative fiction. Among some of their more recent titles: “Alien Virus Love Disaster,” a collection of short stories by Abbey Mei Otis, and “Terra Nullius,” a story that imagines the colonization of Australia in the future by indigenous Australian writer Claire G. Coleman.

“We’re also working on the next issue of our zine, ‘Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet,’ ” Link added. The zine, which published its 38th volume in July, features fiction, nonfiction and poetry from writers across the country.

Link and Grant now run Small Beer Press out of the Paragon Arts & Industry Building in Easthampton. When they drove through western Massachusetts a few years ago, they fell in love with a Northampton house they spotted in a real-estate magazine.

“The idea of buying a house was enormously appealing. We could eat breakfast AND publish books,” she said.

Up next for the writer: more writing.

“I’m working, very slowly, on a novel,” she said.

Small Beer Press announced on Twitter that it’s holding a sale to celebrate Link and “the whole #MacFellow thing.”

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com